|© UNICEF Rwanda/2008/Frejd|
|John-Bosco (left), formerly a street child in Kigali, Rwanda, has made a new life in his ancestral village with his wife, daughter and sister.|
By Hanna Frejd
KIGALI, Rwanda, 19 May 2009 – When rebels entered his village in 1994, John-Bosco, then 11, fled across the border into the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“I came back when I was 13 to find that my parents had been killed and only my sister was left. Neither of us had anyone to help us, so I saw no other option than leaving my sister and moving to Kigali,” he said.
John Bosco is 24 now, and his life has turned around since his days as a street child in Kigali. He is married, he and his wife have a baby and he is back in his ancestral village, where he is chief.
This transformation came about with help from UNICEF and FIDESCO, a Catholic non-governmental organization that helps protect and promote the rights of street children.
Safe haven from the streets
Thousands of Rwandan children make their life in the streets. “Poverty seems to be the main reason, but children might also take to the streets as a consequence of abuse or mistreatment,” said UNICEF Rwanda Child Protection Specialist Maxime Germain.
The Government of Rwanda, with UNICEF’s support, has established guidelines to protect these children and help them return to their communities.
FIDESCO staff actively recruit street children to stay at some 35 centres around the country, where they find a safe haven, meals, clean surroundings and counselling. The children attend primary school or take vocational training courses. Staff trace their families to see if it’s feasible for the children to return home.
Late founders’ work continues
UNICEF has supported FIDESCO since 2006, providing funding as well as expertise on handling child-protection and reintegration issues. Some 3,000 children benefited from the NGO’s services in 2008.
|© UNICEF Rwanda/2008/Germain|
|Rwandan street children learning carpentry at a FIDESCO centre.|
FIDESCO was established to help street children in Kigali more than 17 years ago. Its founders were killed during the 1994 genocide, but their work continues.
“It is a hard life on the streets,” said John-Bosco, who recalled that he was often beaten and forced to steal to survive in those days. Then he lived at a FIDESCO centre for two months and began training in carpentry.
Building a new home and new life
“While I training to become a carpenter, I was also paid a small income,” he said. “It was the first time in my life [that] I was making a salary! I was so happy that I started saving what I could to build my own home for me and my sister.”
A decade later, John-Bosco has a wife, a home and year-old daughter.
“I couldn’t have done this without FIDESCO and UNICEF,” he said, smiling. “This is why I am now helping other people in my village to build their homes. Perhaps that is why my village selected me to be chief!”